Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Update: Keeping Limber with Truth, Freedom, and, uh, Other Cosmic Strands

Update: I've now reviewed over 1,700 posts, which means there are only around 1,500 to go, at which time I may resume blogging, because I feel better when I blog than when I don't. Keeps the mind and spirit, you know, limber.

Here's an old post I reviewed just this morning, which I kind of like. I like it because it comes down to a number of un-further-downable fundamentals. And if the Book is to be written, that is what it would involve: those truths that cannot but be true.


They always come at you with the TRUTH, don't they? Even -- or especially -- the ones who otherwise have no use for the concept.

As we have mentioned before, even if a person is unable to know truth directly, he can know it indirectly by virtue of what evildoers pretend is true.

For example, all evil regimes that are manifestly steeped in falsehood claim to be aligned with a Truth that confers their bogus legitimacy, from the world-historical powers and principalities embodied in National Socialism or communism, to more regional demonocracies such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, and Berkeley.

In each case, they not only maintain they are founded upon truth, but that in most cases they are the very guardians of a precious and beleaguered Truth to which the world is implacably hostile.

This has led many secular sophisticates of the postmodern left -- okay, all of them -- to reject the very concept (or possibility) of truth. But this is like rejecting medicine because of what Nazi doctors did with it, or education because of how our elite universities disfigure it.

You might even hear a proglodyte of the left accuse us of "anti-intellectualism," which is only to miss the point entirely. It is because we cherish education that we criticize the educational establishment, just as it is because of our compassion for the poor that we champion the most demonstrably successful ways to escape poverty, none of which involve statism.

For that matter, it is because it harms blacks that we oppose state-mandated racial discrimination. We know this is true, if only because it is considered a terrible offense to suggest that Obama is our first "affirmative action president." If compulsory racial discrimination is such a wonderful thing, why take offense when we point out that some individual has benefited from the practice?

Speaking of how evildoers claim to be acting in the name of truth, just yesterday we were reading of how the uncompromising pursuit of truth was largely responsible for Hitler's downfall. For example, in invading Russia, he was simultaneously engaged in a battle of annihilation and a war of racial genocide.

But because National Socialism was founded upon the "truth" of racial superiority, it often interfered in completely irrational ways with the prosecution of the overall war, which took a back seat to the sadistic elimination of "inferior races." Precious resources were committed to the latter enterprise in ways that severely hindered their logical allocation.

In a perverse way, we can be thankful that Hitler was such a principled man, because if he weren't, he would have been a much more rational and formidable enemy. [This is the difference between an AOC or Omar, who are clearly principled, vs. a Pelosi or Schumer, who aren't.]

In comparison, Stalin and his heirs to power were much more unprincipled. The USSR pursued its irrational beliefs in relatively rational and predictable ways, whereas, say, Islamists are willing to pursue their irrational ideology in completely irrational ways, up to and including self-destruction (as was the case with Imperial Japan).

In any event, "truth" is clearly a problem, because most of the wholesale evil in the world is committed in its good name. Ratzinger writes that although we all supposedly cherish freedom, "we are inclined to react with suspicion to the concept of truth: we recall that the term truth has already been claimed for many opinions and systems, and that the assertion of truth has often been a means of suppressing freedom."

Thus we see at once that there is some sort of relationship between truth and freedom. But is it a direct or inverse relation?

We might say that the psychospiritual left maintains that the relation is inverse, and that the only way to secure our freedom is to deny any kind of epistemological totalitarianism from gaining power. Thus, as Ratzinger observes -- since he has often been their target -- "Anyone who maintains that he is serving the truth by his life, speech, and action must prepare himself to be classified as a dreamer or fanatic."

This is hardly an intrinsically meritless point of view, given man's bleak track record. History is a chronicle of malignant stupidities masquerading as truth, so why not chuck the whole nasty business, and limit "truth" to what can be empirically demonstrated, like climate change, or Keynesian economics, or queer theory? That way, only the good people will have power over us.

Man is ultimately oriented toward the One, Good, True, and Beautiful. But only because he is so oriented, he is susceptible to becoming dis-oriented. Although many people are uncomfortable with the idea of absolute truth, they all know a lie when they see one.

But in the absence of absolute truth, there is actually no real ground for arbitrating between various lies. Rather, one opinion is intrinsically no worse than another, hence the absurd doctrine of multiculturalism -- an "absolute relativism" that somehow coexists with its ideological opposite, the dogmatic absolutism of political correctness.

Is there a course between these two varieties of false absolutism? Yes, but only if man has free will. Everything is rooted in this principle, without which there is obviously no freedom, but more subtly, no truth -- including, of course, the "truth" that free will is an illusion, for what can an illusion prove? It's like asking how to obtain food from a dream of it.

Now, if truth is an illusion, then at once human intercourse is reduced to a matter of will. One could say that in such an existentialist worldview, man is condemned to freedom. Truly, freedom becomes just another word for "nothing left to lose," or, more succinctly, nothing.

Such a system would understand freedom "as the right and opportunity to do just what we wish and not have to do anything we do not wish to do." It "would mean that our own will is the sole norm of our action" (Ratzinger).

This raises the immediate question of whether, say, an irrational man is actually free in the pursuit of his irrational ends. If we do not believe in free will anyway, then it is a moot point. Nor do we have any basis to object if we don't believe in truth. Rather, freedom only becomes meaningful -- and therefore valuable -- if it is exercised in the light of real -- not "false" or illusory -- Truth.

In the Raccoon view, Truth is of course absolutely real. Indeed, it is the real Absolute. That being the case, no relative being could ever "contain" it.

This has some resonance with Gödel's theorems, which, among other things, prove that man has access to a whole world of transcendent truth that cannot be proved with mere reason. Rather, any such system is always founded upon assumptions the system cannot prove, rendering all such systems epistemologically closed circles in the lost roundup.

The Raccoon prefers to call this absolute truth O, so as not to confuse it with something we already know. For example, it is quite easy for an atheist to disprove the mere existence of this or that "god" (likely a false god of his own imagination anyway), but fundamentally impossible to disprove the beyond-beingness of O without absurdly disproving his own existence (since the existence of even the atheist is explained by something higher than existence, not lower).

Now, tradition, properly understood, is not supposed to be a kind of binding tyranny from which we need to be liberated. Even so, one must not absolutize the system and conflate it with that to which it points, O. Obviously, the object and purpose of religion transcends religiosity, but cannot exclude it.

Rather, you might say that it is a whole system for the articulation of O, generally worked out by people much better and smarter than we are -- unless you believe there is no one better than you, in which case your faith in yourself is total. And I never argue with another man's faith.

(Some resonance here with a few comments I made on an Instapundit thread this morning.)


julie said...

[This is the difference between an AOC or Omar, who are clearly principled, vs. a Pelosi or Schumer, who aren't.]

Ha - and being so principled, they are in their way a gift to those who oppose what they stand for. This is the beauty of freedom of speech: it allows people to show their true colors without fear of being persecuted by the government, no matter how stupid those opinions may be. Everybody knows to give a wide berth the nut shouting on the street corner, precisely because he's a nut shouting on the street corner. If he were quiet and seemed to fit in, he'd be much more of a menace.

Speaking of education, I feel really sorry for the kids whose parents felt it necessary to pay tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to cheat their way into the good schools. Those who had no idea: what a shock to find out in such a horrible and public way that your own parents think you are hopelessly stupid? And having gotten in to the "hard" schools, what chance for graduating except to continue cheating if they want to succeed? (Realizing, of course, that the main purpose of going to such places is probably more about making connections than getting a good education)

ZenGolfer said...

Thanks for that "breadth" of fresh air Dr. Bob!!!

Following the "news" of the Real World gets so monotonous - it's always refreshing to don my "Raccoon Eye Mask" and take a few moments to revel in thoughts about "Absolute Truth" - which is truly what keeps me going most days...


Anonymous said...

Jesus repeatedly recommended that people take their free will and shove it up other peoples asses, in the form of charitable works. Yet isn’t faith all that saves?

I didn’t understand the wisdom of this until I’d lost my own faith. Works is what entices others to get and maintain that faith. It’s what replenishes the pews after the faithful leave this earth. Christianity as a whole must be seen as kind and wise lest the youth look elsewhere for their answers. And free will being what it is, it isn’t us who gets to determine those answers.

Christians demanding that the state be charitable would work, except they get seem to to get confused by mixed metaphors involving ravenous wolves in sheep's clothing who are known by their fruits. The youth of today... not so much.

Gagdad Bob said...

From a subsequent post:

But "it is an illusion to think that man is in complete possession of himself, that he enjoys absolute freedom" (Ratzinger). Rather, because our sacred rights are a gift, they come with an obligation; or let us say a kind of reciprocity, or an open vertical flow.

Thus, "conscience is the capacity to be open to the call of truth, which is objective, universal, the same for all who can and must seek it. It is not isolation but communion" (ibid., emphasis mine).

This brings us back to our opening question: is man the problem or the solution?

Well, he is both and neither, depending upon how -- or through what -- one looks at it. He is a problem insofar as he severs himself from his nonlocal ground, and supposes himself to be radically free and self-sufficient, which immediately reduces him to a cosmic nothing with no possibility of meaning.

But if the creation is "good" and it is good to be human, then it is human to be good -- or, more specifically, to be the cosmic eros shot into the transcendent realms of truth, beauty, goodness, and the One.

Gagdad Bob said...

Part of the review process involves a stroll down memory lane with the comments of perhaps our most persistent and amusing troll, William.

julie said...

Ha - he really was dense, wasn't he?

Gagdad Bob said...

On the spectrum?

Anonymous said...

It's all about the future bob.

I recently had a conversation with the minister of my nephews wedding. I asked about why kids are preferring to marry in fake barns (which they'll use just once) instead of their own lifelong church in which they hope their children will be baptized. His euphemistic answer was that mammon is better served in barns.

We'll all be gone soon enough. But who will replace us?

Anonymous said...

is man the problem or the solution?

Does increasing freedom unleash more of the seven deadly sins, or the seven heavenly virtues? On the flip side, what does increasing statism do?

Obviously neither, when dogma is more important than the quality of the problem solving.

julie said...

Your minister is right.

Even so, take heart. The world has seen all of this before, and until the Second Coming it will likely happen again. But there will always be a remnant, made up of people one might never suspect.

As to freedom, ask yourself this: does anonymity online unleash more sin or more virtue? The answer lies within each individual speaker. For those predisposed to be trollish, they will more likely indulge in those desires. For others, anonymity allows them to adhere more closely to truth, particularly to truths that may be unpopular or even dangerous to acknowledge.

Increasing statism does not make the world safer or better, it simply silences those voices that disagree with just what it is the state would mandate.

Van Harvey said...

"...Nor do we have any basis to object if we don't believe in truth. Rather, freedom only becomes meaningful -- and therefore valuable -- if it is exercised in the light of real -- not "false" or illusory -- Truth. "

And ol' Willian could never, ever, grasp it. He couldn't even generate his own drivel, had to plagiarize his foolishness from other fools.

God does love good comedy.

Anonymous said...

One must examine this William of which we speak. But I leave you to ponder two of the modern worlds more influential “isms”, Communism and Libertarianism.

Both started out with similar philosophical goals. In their origins, they were primarily attempts to limit concentrations of power. Today they’re seen as polar opposites. What happened? It looks like concentrations of power conquered them both, with the usual results. This is why I’m thinking the early Christians had it right. It was repeatedly preached: Never go full mammon.

Anonymous said...

Alright, so William was the atheist who kept shouting “Hellfire!” in a crowded churchhouse. So many of them these days. And then the elders rightfully sent him out the door with much hissing and gnashing from the congregation. He had after all, never contributed anything to the collection plate. But I might’ve missed the part where elders gave him the cliffs notes towards this somewhat esoteric branch of rarified Christianity and he just kept on shouting anyways. So there’s that.

I’m anonymous because my closest caricature would be Cypher. Unlike other “freed”, I rather enjoyed being in the Matrix and sometimes would do almost anything to be put back. I think there are a lot of Cyphers out there.

As a youngster I was chosen from many to be the catechism artist, then lead acolyte, then VBS teacher. Good times. I was somebody and it was fun. I grew up surrounded by Christian family and friends. And the ones who’d died, I’d be getting to be surrounded by them too someday! My country was the best and I collected many books and drew many pictures of all that Christian bestness. Needless to say, it was the best of times.

But then I was painfully yanked out of the Matrix and thrust into the cold hard world of secular “truth”. I don’t like it out here anymore. I would almost get Agent Smith the man with the codes, Richard Dawkins, to get back inside. Or maybe Neil deGrasse Tyson, I dunno. But it might be too late for me. I’m starting to think that America’s once greatest greatness and its great Christianity may have gone hand in hand. But today things are so different.

Maybe William was like a really incompetent Morpheus?

julie said...

What makes you think secularism is the truth?

I agree that Christianity was probably that which made America - and for that matter, the West in general - truly great. That's because it has the delightful benefit of being both true, and the best way for a country to thrive. Choosing life, and thus having life more abundantly.

Like many if not most who have wandered in and stayed for a while here, at one point I went through a phase of pure atheism and a general antagonism toward Christianity in general. In hindsight, I know that what I objected to was not Christ or God as he is, but rather the failure of people to speak His truth in a way that I could hear it. Put simply, I thought they were stupid and/ or deluded. For the most part, that fault was not in them but in me.

You have it quite backward, I'm afraid. Secularism is a cheap version of the matrix. I'd even go so far as to say that Christianity, when it fails in its mission to teach Christ and instead tries to conform itself to the world, is also a part of that matrix. The counterfeit only has perceived value if there's a true version to emulate, after all.

How you meet God is a problem we can't solve for you. However, if you seek Him in truth, He will reveal Himself in a way that you can understand.

Love people, but know that being merely human, they will fail you, sooner or later. Such is life. Trust in God, even if you think He isn't there. Everything else follows.

Van Harvey said...

Anonymous said "...In their origins, they were primarily attempts to limit concentrations of power. Today they’re seen as polar opposites...."

I'd suggest that you should ponder them a bit further, because they are no more different than are heads and tails of the same coin, and that coin is Power, and nothing more.

Both use Economics as their place to begin thinking about the world from, which is their means of dispensing with Philosophy in general, and Metaphysics in particular, so as to make matters of efficiency their only standard (which means Power is their standard). Where that 'standard' comes from, or what it means, is equally pliable in both 'isms, as neither is driven by anything more Real than their own personal preferences, aka Desire.

Despite having surface agreements with many of their positions, of the two 'isms, I personally despise Libertarianism (particularly the Murray Rothbard branches) the most, because they select their preferred standards of satisfaction, such as 'Liberty!', which are concepts that are utterly meaningless without their philosophical roots in that subcategory of Ethics, Political Philosophy, and Ethics itself, Epistemology and Metaphysics, and all that follows from them. Worse, after having entirely amputated Ethics, (most) Libertarians then say "Hey, do whatcha want, your choice is king, pleasure yourself to your heart's(!) content!", and the Rothbardians then even go so far as to dispense with Law, Govt and Intellectual Property (which all Property depends upon, and which all Individual Rights are anchored through), while prattling on about "Liberty!!!".

No such 'Libertarian' scheme can end in anything other than complete despotism.

They cut the rose bush off at the stem, and expectantly demand that it produce fragrant blossoms for them, which is thoroughly pathetic. At least the Communists declare their hatred for everything they proceed to destroy, which IMHO is cleaner than those who embrace their preferences while disembowling them through their back.

And while endorsing Julie's comment, I'd amend or add "However, if you seek truth, He will reveal Himself in a way that you can understand."

Anonymous said...

Julie, all humans are human. We all sin, and everybody knows this. But in the past, Christian humans had just enough more attractiveness than other groups, to keep the pews replenished. Also in the past, atheist resources were not nearly as readily available as today for anyone who doubts. Given the rate of change in spirituality my own lifetime, the future doesn’t look good. This is my concern.

Anonymous said...

Van, “isms” don’t work. Dogma fails. Only intelligent, ethical problem solving works. Francoism was a classic example of what I’m talking about. In direct contradiction to Jesus teachings, Franco gained the support of the church (besides his military and the industrialists) to actively persecute and eliminate atheists and leftists for forty years. Yes, this was probably an excuse for Franco to eliminate all perceived political opposition regardless of actual persuasion, but those were the official targets, and his people complied. Yet forty more years after Francoism died, Spain is now a center left country where sources claim that 3% of Spaniards consider Christian faith a top value. This is Spain we’re talking about.

Dogma fails because it provides authoritarians with compliant authoritarian supporters (who are in the human statistical majority). Most people are not deep ethical thinkers, they just want to live the best they can under the social constrictions they live under. The final ingredient for what I call a "pathological authoritarian engine" (for lack of a better term) is cultural and/or economic anxiety. This is one area where Jesus teaching do make good sense. And too many Christians are ignoring this.